The Presidency last week opened another channel of crisis when it cautioned Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of Ondo State on his order that Fulani herdsmen should leave the forests reserves of the state within seven days.
The governor had on Monday last week told herdsmen in the state forest reserves to quit within seven days.
According to him, the order was following the spate of insecurity across the state, particularly kidnapping and banditry. He said that his administration would not fold its arms and allow a few individuals turn the state into a haven of dare-devil criminals.
The governor’s position came at an interactive meeting with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira communities in the state. He said that security reports and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases pointed in one direction traceable to some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen.
Akeredolu said: “We decided that all the criminal elements who hide under various guises to aid the destruction of farmlands as well as perpetrate other violent crimes such as kidnapping, drug peddling and other nefarious activities, must be stamped out of our dear state.”
He further placed a ban on night-grazing and movement of cattle within cities and on highways in the state.
What followed that simple order the following day was a veiled warning and virulent attack from the Presidency.
The presidency told the governor to separate terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographic origins and religion. Presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement, warned that such order could set off chains of reactions if not reversed. He warned against ethnic profiling, insisting criminals should be treated as such irrespective of their origin.
Shehu said: “We need to delink terrorism and crimes from ethnicity, geographical origins and religion – to isolate the criminals who use this interchange of arguments to hinder law enforcement efforts as the only way to deal effectively with them.”
We concede the fact that the presidency has a right to intervene whenever the constitution of Nigeria or its unity is threatened by any government or individual. We also accept that like every other Nigerian, the presidency and the people inside it have a right to fair comment on any issue affecting the country. But that is where we believe it stops.
We cannot understand the haste in the response of the presidency to the governor’s quit order to herdsmen occupying the state’s forest reserves.
The governor did not order the herdsmen out of his state; he only ordered the herders out of forest reserves in the state. We are all witnesses and have heard of tales of kidnap victims all over the country on their experi-ences while kidnapped.
The common refrain has been trekking inside thick bushes for hours on end. Common sense dictates that the bushes these victims trekked for hours on end are not farm lands or open spaces where they could be seen with their captors.
What it means really is that they move along thick forests, most of which fall into huge forest reserves as mentioned by the state governor. We are also aware that most of the bushes in many states of the federation have been infiltrated by both herdsmen and all manner of criminals.
There is the Sambisa forest in the North-East and the Fulgore in the North- West, which have become huge areas of businesses for insurgents and bandits.
There are similar forests in other parts of the country, which the Nigerian Army and other security forces are battling hard to flush out bandits from. Is the presidency waiting for Ondo forests to reach such peak, so that the army could be deployed, when it becomes a national emergency?
We are worried about the penchant of some people in the presidency to quickly attack anything that appears to be against the herdsmen and by extension, the mention of Fulani by any other group in Nigeria.
Painful as it sounds, the truth is that there are herdsmen that have been infiltrated by or become criminals. Whether they are Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba or Efik is out of the question.
We note that the governor did not attach any ethnic group to the order. The way those in the presidency interpreted the order is the reason for the rising tension and the ethnic profiling that the order has assumed.
It is not hidden that the activities of killer herdsmen have been well documented in the country since 2015. From Benue to Taraba, Edo to Imo, Ondo to Ogun, the story is the same.
There are cries from Nigerians on their activities. What was expected was a presidency that is alive to its duties of stemming what has become a national embarrassment, not one that would quickly jump into conclusions on the side of criminals and terrorists.
We hold that it is the duty of the governor to protect his state. That was the oath he took. That also includes protecting the forests, which falls into his area of authority. We know that President Muhammadu Buhari maintains a ranch.
We also know that cattle business is a private enterprise. Therefore, we do not see why it should be used as a threat to other Nigerians. We submit that even crude oil that is considered a national asset is not exploited with the blood of Nigerians.
We think that rather than jump out to exacerbate an already bad situation, the presidency should work with the governor to limit the insecurity in the state and others in the country.
The presidency should not be seen to be supporting one group above others.